Bourbon being poured into a glass with the Horse Soldier Bourbon logo.

Horse Soldier Farms Distillery

Horse Sol­dier Bour­bon plans to build a world-class dis­tillery expe­ri­ence in Som­er­set-Pulas­ki Coun­ty on the grounds of the for­mer Wait­s­boro Hills Golf Course — a 227-acre expanse over­look­ing Lake Cum­ber­land. The $200-mil­lion project will make the com­mu­ni­ty a south­ern anchor of the Bour­bon Trail tour

Horse Sol­dier Pres­i­dent and CEO John Koko said he is grate­ful for this part­ner­ship, one that will allow a col­lec­tion of expe­ri­ences cen­tered around bour­bon and com­mu­ni­ty spir­it.

“We are every per­son you’ve ever known in your fam­i­ly,” Koko said. “We’re aver­age guys. It was just our turn to do some­thing. And we are proud to be doing it in a place where our sto­ry so nat­u­ral­ly fits. Horse Sol­dier Farms will make this already out­stand­ing com­mu­ni­ty stronger and bet­ter, with the val­ues its peo­ple have always had — val­ues that are also impor­tant to us. We are hon­ored to come home, to make our dreams a real­i­ty in Som­er­set.”

Real­i­ty for Koko and his team was much dif­fer­ent on this day 20 years ago. On Oct. 19, 2001, weeks after the 9/11 ter­ror­ist attacks, a hand-select­ed detach­ment of 12 Green Berets from the 5th Spe­cial Forces Group entered Afghanistan on horse­back. Lat­er named the “Horse Sol­diers,” their clan­des­tine mis­sion marked the first time U.S. troops rode to war on horse­back since World War II. The movie 12 Strong is based on their sto­ry.

Upon retir­ing from the mil­i­tary, this band of broth­ers trav­eled the world and dis­cov­ered a pas­sion for mak­ing bour­bon. From that expe­ri­ence, they deter­mined their lega­cy would be to cre­ate a prod­uct that infus­es patri­o­tism with one of Kentucky’s sig­na­ture indus­tries. Com­ing home to make bour­bon in Ken­tucky, where their mil­i­tary sto­ry began train­ing on the banks of the Cum­ber­land Riv­er, would be the next chap­ter.

Large group of people with shovels at ground breaking event with huge Horse Soldier banner raised by earth moving equipment in the background

Enter Som­er­set May­or Alan Keck, who made bring­ing a bour­bon expe­ri­ence to the com­mu­ni­ty one of his top pri­or­i­ties upon being elect­ed in 2018. After hear­ing a pod­cast fea­tur­ing mem­bers of the Horse Sol­dier Bour­bon team, he was inspired by their sto­ry and began recruit­ment efforts in part­ner­ship with the Som­er­set-Pulas­ki Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Author­i­ty (SPEDA). In just one short year with sev­er­al vis­its between the two teams, Horse Sol­dier announced it would build a dis­tillery in Som­er­set.

“Horse Sol­dier Farms has, from the begin­ning, been a project that chal­lenges peo­ple to believe any­thing is pos­si­ble,” Keck said. “That has been a key part of my vision for this com­mu­ni­ty and it’s what makes this part­ner­ship so spe­cial. I’m grate­ful the Horse Sol­dier team has been will­ing to dream big with us. As these two sto­ries inter­twine, as we forge our path to becom­ing a Ken­tucky Bour­bon Trail® expe­ri­ence, we will con­tin­ue to build excite­ment and a more endur­ing lega­cy for Som­er­set.”

The team’s love of coun­try and craft is woven through­out the Horse Sol­dier Farms project, which will bring 400-plus jobs to Som­er­set-Pulas­ki County’s already robust tourism indus­try. Ren­der­ings show a sus­tain­able dis­tillery inspired by the 12 Horse Sol­diers: Vis­i­tors will dis­cov­er 12 fer­men­ta­tion vats in per­fect for­ma­tion around the col­umn still cre­at­ed with met­al from the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty. A recessed water fea­ture and still­house pay homage to the Two Tow­ers in New York City. And the water gar­den includes a repli­ca of the America’s Response Mon­u­ment locat­ed at Ground Zero, a stat­ue that com­mem­o­rates the Horse Sol­diers’ mis­sion.

The grounds also include a vil­lage that offers both spir­its- and non-spir­its-based activ­i­ties. Events, fes­ti­vals and con­certs will fill the fam­i­ly-friend­ly venue’s sched­ule while shops, com­mu­ni­ty rooms, a chapel and event cen­ter, and health and well­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties will be avail­able to res­i­dents, vis­i­tors and vet­er­ans. Horse Sol­dier Farms will also include a lux­u­ry lodge, cab­ins and serve as a pre­mier culi­nary des­ti­na­tion.

Horse Sol­dier Bour­bon assem­bled a design team that offers col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence in projects across the globe. Roger Stirk Har­bour + Part­ners (RSHP), an inter­na­tion­al archi­tec­tur­al prac­tice based in Lon­don, has pri­or dis­tillery expe­ri­ence design­ing the world-renowned Macallan Dis­tillery in Scot­land. Oth­er notable projects include 3 World Trade Cen­ter in New York City and the Inter­na­tion­al Spy Muse­um in Wash­ing­ton D.C. The design team’s port­fo­lio also includes The Jame­son and Abso­lut brand-homes and guest expe­ri­ences in Europe, along with con­struc­tion exper­tise with Ken­tucky dis­til­leries Wood­ford Reserve, Bulleit Bour­bon, Angel’s Envy and Wild Turkey.

Horse Sol­dier Bour­bon is a mem­ber of the Foley Fam­i­ly of Wines (FFW) port­fo­lio. FFW Pres­i­dent Shawn Schif­fer said Horse Soldier’s authen­tic­i­ty shines through its sto­ry and the qual­i­ty of its prod­uct, mak­ing it unlike any oth­er bour­bon brand in the indus­try.

“Horse Sol­dier Bour­bon has solid­i­fied its place in Amer­i­can his­to­ry and on shelves across the coun­try through its civic con­tri­bu­tions and its award-win­ning craft, both of which are equal­ly impres­sive,” Schif­fer said. “We have no doubt Horse Sol­dier Farms and the Som­er­set com­mu­ni­ty will be a can’t miss stop on the Ken­tucky Bour­bon Trail® tour, and we couldn’t be more proud to sup­port this com­pa­ny as a top brand in the Foley Fam­i­ly brand port­fo­lio.”

“I come here with my heart open, believ­ing that Horse Sol­dier Farms, our for­ev­er home, is going to be even more his­toric than the things we have done in our lives pri­or to this moment,” Koko said. “This is our jour­ney; this is Somerset’s jour­ney. And it’s not over. We look for­ward to writ­ing the chap­ters that lie ahead with the peo­ple of this com­mu­ni­ty.”

See Somerset Swag!

Put your name in the hat to win a swag bag from See Somerset Tourism.